Michael Eon clearly remembers the pungent smell of garbage that wafted through the air as he drove to work in Biddeford town center and the concern he shared with others than an incinerator of garbage in the middle of the city center stifled the growth of the city.
In 2011, he joined with other local businessmen in pushing the city to buy and close the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator, hoping his absence would bring the bustling downtown area back from its youth.
Today, nearly a decade after the waste incinerator closed, the city is in the midst of the revitalization Eon dreamed of, with more people and businesses relocating to the city. And Eon says now is the time to develop a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to build more homes as Biddeford experiences an unprecedented housing crisis.
âSince city council voted to shut down the MERC incinerator, the town of Biddeford has only impressed Maine and New England with its vision of revitalization and renewal. There is no other explanation for all the progress made since the historic decision the Council courageously took on July 31, 2012, âEon wrote in a letter to city officials. âThe next big challenge is housing.
Eon and his business partner, David Gould, recently approached the city to collaborate on a master plan for a large undeveloped land. He plans to develop a vibrant neighborhood with a mix of housing types and prices, as well as unspoiled land along Thatcher Creek and trails that connect different parts of the city.
The plan came close to reality last week when Biddeford City Council authorized the city manager to enter into a joint development agreement with Eon Entities for the development of an approximately 100-acre parcel located between Barra Road, McKenney Drive, South Street and Thatcher Brook. . The deal includes a guarantee that the development will include affordable senior housing and a city credit boost that allows an adjacent large-scale housing project to move forward.
Eon said the unbroken leaflet could be “ideal for the kind of housing initiatives that are badly needed” and which city council has made clear it wants to support. The project will help address the housing issues facing the city and help the council meet its goals of creating more housing options in Biddeford as it faces increased demand, he said. declared.
Like other communities in southern Maine, this high demand coupled with a lack of supply is driving up prices and raising concerns that people are not leaving their homes. Market rents in Biddeford have risen sharply since 2012, from $ 863 per month for a two-bedroom apartment that year to $ 1,211 per month in 2020, a 40% increase in eight years, according to the city. . Since 2012, more than 800 multi-unit buildings have been sold and now sell for more than $ 94,000 per unit, up from less than $ 53,000 per unit three years ago, according to an analysis by the city’s valuation service. .
City officials say 40 percent of renter households in Biddeford pay 35 percent or more of their income for housing. It is generally accepted that no more than 30 percent of household income should be used for housing. City officials say a lack of “houses next door” – bigger homes for growing families – has forced people to leave Biddeford.
Strong demand for apartments and single-family homes prompted city council to spend months examining housing issues, including affordability, density and incentives for developers. At the end of last year, the council for the first time adopted housing goals to guide policy decisions that city leaders hope will help provide more housing across the housing continuum. from low-income apartments to large single-family homes to senior housing.
The goals are to increase the homeownership rate in the community from 48 percent to 51 percent by 2026; create at least 400 ânext doorâ opportunities by 2026; create at least 200 affordable homeownership opportunities for households between 80% and 120% of median income; create or maintain 90 affordable housing units per year for five years targeted to serve the 40 to 80 percent median income community; and rehabilitate at least 65 rental units per year over the next three years to ensure that the units are healthy, lead-free homes.
While it is too early to say exactly how many housing units could be created on land owned and controlled by Eon Entities, Eon would like it to include affordable, labor-intensive and market-priced housing, including plots for “houses next door”.
“There are no more plots like this one east of the toll highway,” Councilor Marc Lessard said last week before voting for the joint development agreement. âBeing able to involve the city in a master plan with a developer to be able to do the rest is unheard of. Other cities would be drooling to be able to have the opportunity to do so.
City Manager James Bennett said joint development agreements like the one with Eon Entities allow a city to ensure that complex projects are carried out, especially in cases where their completion involves large investments in infrastructure. He used joint development agreements as a development tool when he was city manager in Lewiston and about half a dozen times in Biddeford in recent years.
Under the terms of the Joint Development Agreement, Eon Entities will draft a mixed-use master plan in collaboration with the city that will create senior housing options, add protections around segments of Thatcher Brook, and create easements for a connection pedestrian through the property with the Sentier de l’Est. The master plan will become the basis for future development of the area and for any zoning ordinance changes required to achieve housing development goals.
As part of the deal, the city will commit to establishing a 20-year credit enhancement agreement with Saxon Partners of Massachusetts, coordinating master planning activities with key departments and agencies, and assisting Eon entities in Obtain financing to support the development of affordable housing, including taking into account financing funds through tax increases when deemed necessary to carry out the project.
The credit enhancement agreement is for a 250-unit apartment building, called The Marek, being built by Saxon on land adjacent to land controlled by Eon and Gould. The project was approved before the pandemic and the developers say a credit boost is now needed to complete the project as construction costs have increased over the past year.
Eon Entities will carve out 2 acres of land adjacent to the Saxon Project to create between 35 and 45 affordable housing units for seniors with 80 percent or less of the region’s median income. The group will work with a low-income senior housing developer to build the units, with the final number and size of units being subject to the findings of the master plan study.
The credit enhancement agreement with Saxon calls for the company to pay taxes to the city in the amount of $ 255 in the first year and increase by 2% in years two to five of the agreement. During years 6 to 20, the city will withhold 65% of the taxes paid. Saxon will also donate $ 125,000 to the city to help it meet its affordable housing goals, but the agreement does not specify exactly how this money will be used.
During a discussion on the joint development and credit enhancement agreement last week, Board Chairman John McCurry said he was disappointed to see Saxon return for a credit enhancement after the project had taken off. been approved without any. McCurry and Councilor Michael Ready voted against the joint development agreement.
Other councilors, including Lessard, have spoken out in favor of working with Eon on a master plan that meets the housing goals set by the council.
Mayor Alan Casavant said he welcomed the opportunity for the city to participate in the planning of a “great project”.
âIt’s not just housing. Especially in this post-COVID world, people want to go outside to walk and cycle. If he can connect all the way to Rotary Park, high school, the East Trail and the Riverwalk, I think that’s an opportunity we should try to realize, âhe said.
Bennett said lawyers will now work to finalize the legal language for the joint development agreement before the city begins working with Eon on the master plan process. Eon said he hopes to complete the Conceptual Master Plan during the winter.
Eon, who grew up in Biddeford, said he saw the collaboration as a “win-win for everyone”. When he talks about the project, he is very enthusiastic about the possibilities for recreation and preservation that he sees in the project.
A former educator who started Biddeford’s elementary physical education program in the 1970s, he has long wanted to create trails that would allow people to walk from Alfred Road to high school or Doran Field and Rotary Park. The “magnificent woods” of the property were not seen by many, but the development would open up the area to more people, Eon said.
âI’m quite excited to see this project come to fruition in the next five years or so,â he said. âI am grateful that the board has decided to accept this. I think it will be a real good project for the whole community at the end. “
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